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Government minister says Israel won't apologize to Turkey for deaths of flotilla activists
JERUSALEM (AP) ' Israel will not apologize for killing nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla last year, an Israeli Cabinet minister said Thursday, but he added that not all in government agree with this stance.
Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon told foreign reporters at a briefing Thursday that he recently held three rounds of talks with the Turks in an effort to put more than a year of animosity behind the one-time close allies.
"We are not ready to apologize," he said. "Apology is taking responsibility."
However, he hinted Israel's position could change, saying "there might be some dispute" within the Cabinet.
The pro-Palestinian activists were trying to breach Israel's naval embargo of the Gaza Strip. Israel says it imposed the blockade four years ago to keep militants from bringing weapons to the Hamas-ruled enclave by sea.
Activists who regard the blockade as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million people sent a six-ship flotilla in the direction of Gaza.
Israeli naval commandos sent to intercept the ships from reaching Gaza clashed with knife and club-wielding activists aboard the Turkish vessel leading the flotilla, killing nine activists onboard.
Activists say they were attacked first, while Israel maintains the commandos opened fire in self-defense.
Turkish activists did not join a failed attempt earlier this month to send another flotilla to Gaza, in what appeared to be a sign of warming relations between the two countries. But Yaalon said major disagreements between his government and Turkey couldn't be bridged.
In what could re-ignite tension, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes to make his first official visit to Gaza in about two weeks.
Turkey contends that the blockade is illegitimate and wants it lifted, something Israel refuses to do.
Yaalon said an upcoming U.N. report on the Israeli raid is expected to defend the blockade and the naval operation but accuse commandos of using excessive force. He said U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to release the report on the deadly confrontation July 27.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said: "The report is in the works but we can't say when it will be handed to the secretary-general."
Asked whether the report will be made public, Nesirky said: "The secretary-general will decide on the next steps after he receives the report."
While the sea blockade remains enforced, the Israeli official said weapons from Libya are making their way into Gaza through Egypt's Sinai desert.
"There is now a new route of weapons smuggled from Libya," he said, adding that smugglers are taking advantage of the chaos prompted by that country's civil war.
He stopped short of providing details about the types or quantities of weapons Israel claims are moving into Gaza from Libya.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.